8. Is Inequality Bad?

No two people are the same. But our differences aren’t a bad thing. In fact, our differences allows us to use our special talents and skills to trade with others and live meaningful lives.

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Key Terms

  • Division of labor: A production process involving many different people, each of whom specialize in and work on a different task, thereby collaborating to do something greater together than any one of them could do alone.
  • Dystopia: A society characterized by oppression, misery, and usually significant government coercion over people.

 

Here’s the transcription of our conversation:

Brittany: Hi Connor, how are you?

Connor: Hey, Brittany. I’m well, what are we chatting about today?

Brittany: So I actually have a question for you today.

Connor: All right.

Brittany: Ready? Is it okay to be special?

Connor: Is it okay to be special? My mom always told me, so I think so.

Brittany: Well, I was just thinking about it and if I’m special, doesn’t that mean that someone else isn’t special and if everyone is special, then doesn’t that mean? No one is special. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Yeah. And I actually, I kinda wanna play a clip from one of my favorite Disney movies. The Incredibles real quick. If you wanna listen to this clip with me,

Connor: All right, let’s hear it.

Helen (The Incredibles Movie): The world just wants us to fit in and to fit in. We just gotta be like everybody else.

Dash (The Incredibles Movie): But dad, we said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special.

Helen (The Incredibles Movie): Everyone’s special dash,

Dash (The Incredibles Movie): Which is another way of saying no one is

Connor: Ooh, that was profound,

Brittany: Right? Yeah. That’s Dash he’s one of my favorite characters. I think of all Disney movies too.

Connor: So why, why let’s unpack what he saying, right? Yeah. What does that mean for us?

Brittany: Yeah, so that’s kind of what I was wondering. So, if everybody is special, does that mean no one is special? And what does it even mean to be special? What is this word? I think it comes up a lot and I was just kind of wanted to, wanted to see what you thought about it.

Connor: Well, as I think of how my parents talk to me about it and how I talk to my kids about it everyone’s special in a different way. Right. We all have different talents. E all have different interests and you know, it’s okay to be special in different ways because I might be, you know, special in writing books or beekeeping. Right. Which is one of my hobbies. Brittany, have you ever done beekeeping before?

Brittany: No, but I’ve always wanted to, I forgot you were a beekeeper.

Connor: Yeah. So like, I, I kind of have that specialty if you will, and that’s special for me, but you don’t have that.

Brittany: No, but I sing. Do you sing?

Connor: I definitely do not sing.

Brittany: Okay.

Connor: And you’re a comedian now and

Brittany: I’m a comedian.

Connor: That’s right. Yeah. I definitely can’t do that. And so, yeah, maybe that’s the answer. What do you think is, is that kind of the answer back that it’s okay to be special because we’re all special in different things or does that not quite hit the mark?

Brittany: I think it is. But I also think it’s important to understand that being different doesn’t make you less special, right? So you are not a, you are not a good, I just said you’re not a good singer. I don’t know if you’re a good singer, Connor, I assume.

Connor: Oh, you would’ve been correct.

Brittany: But that doesn’t mean that doesn’t make you any less of a person or you have something else. And when we put, this is the real beautiful thing, this is what I love about, about being special is that when you use your specialties and I use my specialties and, and you know, next door neighbors use there, when we all come together and we do what makes us special, the world becomes better. It’s almost as if not being equal, being, being unequal makes us better, makes the world better. And that’s crazy to me.

Connor: So, okay. Let’s think about that. What would the world look like if there was no specialty, if no one was special, if everyone had the same talents, everyone was equal. What, what would that look like? What I’m thinking in my mind is like, you know, maybe we can’t be, first of all, maybe it’s important to say we can’t all be special in all the things we can’t all be excellent. You know, farmers and chemists and philosophers and engineers and, you know, we can’t do all the things. No. Which is probably why way back in the day when you had everyone as like farmers, basically that that’s like all they could do. You didn’t have any other real specialties, right? Unless someone went off and focused just on like, Hey, I’m just gonna become a, a mathematician and all day long, I’m gonna study math.

And that requires that someone pay me to do this. Right. And that requires that I figure out how, how to get paid. And so I can pay a farmer to give me food, cuz I don’t have time to raise my own food. And so that’s why I like the word special that you use Brittany because the market, we specialize, right? The mathematician might specialize, and discover this new formula that allows an engineer to make, you know, light bulbs, 10 times, you know, more you know, efficiently, which means that people can save money on light bulbs, which means they can spend more money on groceries and so on and so forth. And that’s what specialization does because the mathematician was able to focus just on that thing and not have to worry about, you know, creating his own clothes and planting his own food.

Brittany: And can you imagine having a farm and make your own clothes and do everything yourself? No, that is not a world I want to live in.

Connor: And you wouldn’t have time for anything else?

Brittany: Nope

Connor: And so you wouldn’t have all the abundance that we have today. So what would the world look like? If we all were the same, if there was no one’s special. If there was no specialization, it probably would be exactly that Brittany we’d all just have to farm and that’s all we had time to do because we’d have to spend every day like planting and, and taking care of the animals.

Brittany: That’s not gonna work for me. I’m a very indoor girl, Connor. I like Netflix and shopping online shopping. I don’t do farming.

Connor: It would be no Netflix if we weren’t inequal. And that gets to another episode, we previously talked about rich people, right? And so we have this inequality in the sense that there some people are Jeff Bezos is more rich and because he’s more rich because there is inequality, certain people are able to apply their resources, their money to make the world a better place to serve more people. So, but it seems to me, Brittany, that it’s bad to go around saying that inequality is a good thing. How do we, how do we explain that in a way that makes more sense? Cause when you say, oh, inequality is great, inequality is important. It seems like some people might struggle with that type of message.

Brittany: They will. In fact, I remember being, being a kid in school and this goes back to singing again. Me and another girl who were both singers were talking about who was better. And my teacher said, doesn’t matter no, one’s better. This isn’t a competition. You’re both equal. And I get what she was doing. I understand why she said that, but we weren’t equal. Right. It doesn’t mean she had to say, you know, you’re better than her you’re but it’s, it’s okay to acknowledge that, that we have specialization, that we can be the best at something. In fact, when we do that, things get better. And you said, imagine a world where everything was the same, that we were all equal. That sounds very boring. To me, it sounds like we’ve talked about this word before dystopian, you see a lot of these dystopian novels, things like hunger games where they’re all kind of dressed the same and they don’t really have original thoughts. There’s just drones.

Connor: Yeah. There’s one that comes to mind for me. I read this essay. It’s a short essay a few years ago. That’s called Harrison Burgeron. And in fact they made a short film about this that you can find if you Google search for like 20 81, 2081. If you put in like 2081 movie, they turned it into a cool little movie.

Brittany: Is that the book is the first line. The year is 2081.

Connor: Yes.

Brittany: And everybody, yes, I have heard of this.

Connor: And so the, they that was a society, a, a dystopian. So dystopian is a fun word for me, but the opposite is utopian, right? And people tend to know what a utopian world it’s, everything is perfect and wonderful all the time. And so, a dystopian future, a dystopian fiction is about a world where things are awful, where things are going very poorly. And typically, I mean, in most dystopian stories, bringing, I think you’d agree that it’s usually the government. That is the, the reason or the means by which all these bad things are happening. Cuz people are being controlled and they’re being oppressed and things like that. And so in Harrison Burgeron’s story they’re trying to force equality. They’re trying to force sameness on, on people. There’s no specialization. And, and I remember this one part of the story in particular, where there was this ballet that was happening, these ballerinas were trying to do their job, but the government had issued this, order where ballerina’s dancers had to dance with weights on because it was unfair that they had a talent that set them apart from the average person.

And so in order to make their life more difficult, they effectively were handicapped. And they literally, so in the movie, it’s interesting how they show it. They’re having like weighted down and they’re trying to dance with all these weights on them, weighing them down to make it so that things are more equal. Why probably so that others don’t feel bad. There’s oh, there’s so much, oh now haha. They can’t do their way. I could do it as good as they can. Now I feel better about myself. I think we see a little bit about that in our world. Brittany, talk to us a little bit about this kind of the terms maybe a little advanced and we don’t need to get into, but you know, we social justice warriors or these people who feel that there needs to be social justice that I, I feel inferior. So I need to tear you down. I need to limit what’s your perspective on, on that type of thing happening in our world today?

Brittany: Yeah. I’m not a fan of that. I don’t like it because it makes, it makes you feel like you should feel or bad for what you have. So there’s a word privilege. We hear the word privilege a lot. If you come from means if you have, you know, money, if you were able to go to college, if you grew up with both parents, a lot of people will say you’re privileged. And that means that you, you don’t deserve things. So maybe you don’t deserve to get into a good school because you were and I’m using scare quotes. When I say this scare quotes, you were privileged, right? You, it was too easy for you, but that discounts everyone’s very specialized and unique journey. Also, everybody is fighting a battle. Everyone’s doing something different. So when people make these blanket terms, we’ve talked about collectivism before.

Connor: Yeah.

Brittany: When they decide that you don’t get something because you fit into a certain group, that’s just collectivism. That’s that’s not helping anybody. And I think it makes us, I was gonna say it makes us less special, but not in that term. It makes us, not compete as hard. So, what I mean by that is in the market, in the free market, we have brands that compete. We’ve talked about this a little bit, right? There’s Pepsi and there’s Coke.

Connor: There’s Coke and Pepsi.

Brittany: Yep, exactly. Now, if Pepsi does something really good, Coke’s gonna see that and they’re gonna wanna get better. So they’re gonna work that much harder to be, to be that much more special. Right? And then Pepsi’s gonna see that Coke just did something and they’re gonna up the ante and they’re gonna try. And when that happens, the whole world benefits because we get the best possible products and the same could be said with inequality, right? When we are unequal and we are kind of forced to, to either get better or to find where we fit in, where our special talent is, then, everybody wins. We win the world wins. We get to be fulfilled and people get better products or better services.

Connor: I think that’s totally right. I’m reminded of back before, you know, when quarantines were happening and schools weren’t, you know, shut down. I was doing a lot of assemblies for kids, usually like fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade. And what I would do is I would bring everyone their own personal copy of The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil. So every kid would get one and I would.

Brittany: That’s a good one.

Connor: I would bring this big pencil, this, this working pencil that was like about it’s about two feet, maybe about a foot and a half large. It’s this just gigantic pencil. And it works. You can write with it, you can erase with it. It’s just really big. And then I bring all the different parts. So people listening who have read that story, you remember, we talked about the different parts of a pencil. So there’s the wood and there’s the graph.

Brittany: And the Eraser.

Connor: Mm-Hmm, exactly. You need the rubber, you need the oil, you need the metal. So there’s all these parts. So when I go to these assemblies, Brittany, it’s pretty cute. You could probably relate as a former teacher. I stand there with a pencil and I say, okay, who here thinks they could make a pencil like this entirely on their own. And of course, you know, almost every hand goes up, all these little confident kids. We’re like, I could totally do that. But then we start to talk about it. Like, how would you do it? And just like in the book we say, what are the parts of the pencil? And, but wait a minute, like, okay, even if you could chop down a tree to be able to kind of sand it down and get it into the form that you would need for a pencil you still need to be able to figure out how to chop the tree down. How are you gonna do that? Yeah. Oh, you know, another kid will raise his hand and this is a very interactive assembly. He’ll kind of get their input and a kid will say, I would use an axe or another one will say, I’ll use a chainsaw. And then I pause. And I say, but where did you get the chainsaw? Where, where did you get the axe?

Brittany: Oh, that’s a good question. Yeah.

Connor: If you have to do this entirely on your own, you’re getting help from other people. If you use a chainsaw, you’re getting help from other people. If you use an axe, so how would you make an ax? How would you make a chainsaw? Well, how would you learn how to smelt right? Or mine ore do these things that you need to get the metal to make a, an axe or a chainsaw. And so they begin to quickly see, as we do this for the wood and the graphite and the locker and the rubber and stuff like that, they quickly begin to see what we learn about in that book, that story from about the pencil. And that is, we need all these people who are working together. So, let’s maybe share this example, but, and this is what comes to mind for me.

So our listeners probably most, all of them have one or more of The Tuttle Twins books. Now I write the books, but I do not draw well. In fact, if I had to illustrate these books, I guarantee you wouldn’t sell any. So I need Elijah. Elijah is half the reason, probably more than half. The reason these stories have been as successful as they are, cuz the illustrations are phenomenal and they help kids understand. So right there, he specialized in one part of it. I specialized in another, but you know what? I need to get these stories in the hands of our listener. So how do I do that? Well, I gotta print a book. I don’t know how to print a book. I don’t have a printing machine. I don’t know how to get ink. I don’t know how to, you know, turn a big tree into very yeah.

Bring paper. Like it’s amazing to think about how some people have become special in one thing, Elijah became special at drawing how he’s worked at it for years. Right. He’s become really good. And so then I can borrow his talents and use it. And, the guy who created the printing machine, they’ve probably been doing that for 50 years. Each year, coming out with little improvements, like you said, with like McDonald’s or burger king or Coke or Pepsi, they’re always learning from their competitors.

Brittany: Yeah.

Connor: How can we improve? How can we be better? And then here I come along saying, I wanna make a book, but I get to suddenly tap into the specialties, the, the, the special abilities of all these other people who have become masters at their craft. And they could help me make my book, which in turn helps the, our, our, our listeners who have the books, our readers of the books so that they can benefit. It seems crazy to me how the market is really just all of us working together so well.

Brittany: And it takes so many different, special talents, right? It takes all kinds, chainsaws access. You said things that I hadn’t even thought of. So it is so cool that it’s almost like no matter what your specialty is, no matter what your skill is, there’s someone who can use it or there’s someone who can benefit from it. And that’s really cool.

Connor: And that’s a kind of a fun thing to think about is as kids get older as you and I continue to mature, it’s I have these talents, how can I help other people? How can I share them? Maybe, you know, my, my son right now is, is think how to draw anime. And you know, I’m not really interested in that, but I know there are a ton of other people in the world who are, how can my son continue to improve his ability, but then benefit other people. What if he held a class for kids in the neighborhood and taught them how to draw, that would be,

Brittany: Yeah. Or, or drew his own anime. Maybe he could make his own illustrations and he can sell them at maybe aa kid’s market. You know, there’s all sorts of avenues.

Connor: Yeah. Or drawing a happy mother’s day card, you know? Oh yeah. Having something special. So I think, I think being, I think Dash is on to something. I think it’s important that, you know, even though we’re all special and something, that doesn’t mean that we’re not special. It doesn’t mean that we’re all the same. We just have all these different specialties. And that’s a good thing because what you said, Brittany earlier was super important. Our world becomes a much more prosperous and, and exciting place to live in when there’s so many people who have so many different talents that can help us and we can work together and make some pretty amazing things.

Brittany: You’re right. In fact, I don’t think I’m ever gonna look at a pencil the same way again.

Connor: All right guys, that’s it for this time. Make sure you’re subscribed and we’ll see on the next episode. Bye Brittany!

Brittany: See you next time!

 

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